Yes, Team Fortress 2 players recently did a big trade involving an IRL dog and, no, they're not monsters and it's quite above-board and sweet actually

 Sky the dog, who was 'traded' in a TF2 exchange.
Sky the dog, who was 'traded' in a TF2 exchange.

You know how sometimes you read an online post, in this case a semi-viral tweet relating to a Team Fortress 2 trade, think "hell no that didn't happen", then read it again? I've seen some corkers in my time but get a load of this:

"Allegedly a TF2 trade occurred that included a family dog as part of the trade," says X user SirDapper. "The LIVING dog was valued at 450 keys, about $740. They traded their 'best friend of 10 years' away for some burning pixels. You cannot make this stuff up."

First of all, it's true. Second of all, the above is something of a misrepresentation of what went on here (and now subject to a community note adding context), though there's also a wider muddying of the waters around what seems like an incredible and possibly inappropriate trade. Just on the face of it, I think many peoples' instant reaction to the thought of any living animal being part of a videogame item trade would be negative.

So what actually went down? The trade took place between OZest and Gummy, who both go by other handles but for this story we'll stick to those. And the reason it landed badly with some, initially at least, is that the news of the trade was published with some chat logs of the pair discussing the trade (which contains a whole bunch of TF2 items as well as the dog). You can see the full chats here (page 1, page 2), and I'll give three examples of their exchanges:

OZest: I can offer you 5450 keys

Or if you want, I can sub out 50 keys for a hamster.

So 5400+hamster? Does that beat your best offer?

Gummy: hmmm other than the hamster + 5400 keys or 5450 keys do you have any other pets you could offer?

[OZest mentions the dog, talks about its breed and age]

Gummy: nvm now u got me interested. How much for that dog?

Gummy: Max I can value your dog is 300 keys.



Gummy: eh IDK man a unique sidekick would cost me 16 ref

OZest: Fine even if you don't take the dog at 500 keys I'll do it.

Where do you want him delivered?

Gummy: I'll send u a location, send him there the moment we finish the deal on the polar.

The pair also joke about how "strange" the dog is ("strange" being a category of TF2 item), make jokes about fleas and the dog's habit of humping everything in sight, and OZest says the animal has been "my best friend half my life" and is 10 years old.

Now if you took those messages at face value, which initially a lot of folk seemed to, then yeah this looks bad: callous, even. Two videogame traders chucking a live animal into a pre-existing deal as a makeweight and joking about what a daft flea-bitten mongrel it is… yeah, not great.

When the trade was first posted to backpacktf the reaction from some was revulsion. There was also an amusing contingent of TF2 nerds who didn't really care to engage with the ethics of the question, but were worried about whether the dog was being used to falsely inflate prices.

Shortly after this came the SirDapper tweet we started with, which brought the trade to much wider attention but with even less context than the forum posts. Animal ethics can get some people very riled-up, not unreasonably, and unfortunately on the surface this looked like a step too far.

The true story, however, turns out to be quite different. Perhaps the first big flag is that OZest and Gummy are not just online TF2 acquaintances, but know each other in real life. Not only that: Gummy knows the dog in question, and a recent change in OZest's circumstances meant they were finding it difficult to care for the dog.

"We've been struggling to take care of [Sky] for the past half a year," writes OZest in a post adding some context. "Especially after my parents moved back overseas, leaving myself and my brother alone to take care of our dog."

The dog in question, Sky, also has some dietary and medical requirements that sound a little onerous, and OZest felt he wasn't providing the animal with enough support and attention.

"Gummy is a close IRL friend of mine, so even before this ‘deciding to sell my dog’ talk, he has taken care of my dog at his place on several occasions, and even visited him at my place," says OZest. "They do get along quite well so it’s only natural that I ask him if he’d like to take care of him permanently."

OZest adds that, had Gummy not been interested, he would've had to put the dog up for adoption: but considered this a far better option where Sky will "definitely get a far better quality of life".

They admit joking with Gummy around the sales and valuation chatter, say they each love pulling the other's leg, and acknowledge "this situation taken out of the right context may seem like I’m getting a sick kick out of selling my dog. It obviously isn't easy for me to give my dog away, but as the situation persists, it's what I have to do."

Key details

This was more-or-less the end of the matter among the people paying attention, though certain die-hards persisted in rumbling about the potential effect of this dog on the TF2 economy. But there were still bits of it that didn't quite add up to me, and I did wonder whether the whole thing was just a stunt. There are pictures of the dog, sure, but, y'know, if you need a picture of a dog I can get you a picture of a dog.

I got in touch with Gummy and we chatted at some length on Steam about what had gone on. "The story is true," said Gummy, "me and OZest are friends in real life, I would occasionally visit him at his house and play with his dog quite often."

Gummy goes on to back-up OZest's change in circumstances and the dog's dietary requirements which require "cooked and specially prepared meals as normal dog food is too hard for him to swallow." He says the pair had discussed the option and things like covering what may be considerable medical expenses, and while OZest was insistent on paying in full they've agreed to split any bills 50/50.

It was while they were getting into the nuts-and-bolts of looking after the dog that the pair also began to discuss a TF2 item owned by Gummy, the Burning Flames Polar Pullover, which OZest wanted to buy for keys. And here's where things get even more interesting, as it turns out what lots of folk thought was a cruel joke with an animal as the punchline was about settling the medical bills between the pair.

"I was already offered a higher amount by another buyer (5400 keys which was around 8100 USD), and OZest offered a similar/higher amount as well (5450 keys, around 8175 USD)," says Gummy. "So after some discussion, I would discount the item for him for 450 keys (which can be sold for around 700 USD) to cover the 50% that I offered to pay on the dog's medical bills, and for him to settle any remaining medical bills on the dog.

"Look at all these books being written, they getting pressed over a poodle."

"As we are good friends who like to joke around," says Gummy, "I told him why [doesn't] he cover the medical bills fully, and 'sell' the dog to me for 450 keys + 5000 keys more on the TF2 item, as it would be funnier if he traded his family dog for a TF2 item."

I ask Gummy whether he has the dog, and he says it's still with OZest right now: "he will be handing it to me in a few weeks once he has said his goodbyes."

TF2 Engie Guitar
TF2 Engie Guitar


So: all's well that ends well. Unless you're worried about the price of a dog affecting the integrity of the TF2 ecosystem which, it turns out, lots of people were. The backpacktf forum thread where the trade was first announced has gone through some convulsions, with NEO_NoiseBomb accurately summarising the positions of those who remain weirded-out over it: "I get the context. But placing a value on a beloved pet with video game keys is just wrong. The idea of selling away a pet for a pixels and polygons in a game is absurd."

"Look at all these books being written," says Littlepudintater with a cry-laugh emoji, "they getting pressed over a poodle." Bet Littlepudintater plays Heavy.

The well-named NobodyNose suggests "we all summarize/write this one off as 'OZest was getting ready to give up his dog to Gummy (for free), but when making the pullover trade they both joked about it and gave the dog a value in keys.'" Rouzenzaker suggests that "I think the doggie is priceless."

This was a question for mods. The brave Vijf Kilo Boter was sent out to bat, and make a judgement on whether this trade should be considered legitimate.

"The first factor that brought controversy is the inclusion of a living creature in the trade," comes the judgement. "This is something that I am not going to consider for a price suggestion, regardless of the circumstances. A forum post provided a detailed explanation on the exact situation, which makes the dog exchange a lot less heinous, but it still does not warrant its inclusion here."

The question is thus whether to strike the trade entirely, or allow it as legitimate but remove the value of 450 keys ascribed to the dog. There is not exactly any precedent for this type of decision, so we're into TF2 Supreme Court territory here. And wait! One more snag: "the two traders involved in this situation are IRL friends."

This doesn't necessarily preclude the trade being legitimate, but is a problem here because there are wider financial issues (like the bills) affecting the trade. And Gummy having previously looked after the dog? Well this reminds me of nothing so much as "a trading scenario where a hat was shared between users prior to a 'final' exchange, in which case we reject sales, even if they only include in-game items," says the mod, adding the brilliant clarification that "it should be noted that this goes for the dog, not for the pullover."

The post then goes into some detail on the medical bills, virtual items and trade values, before concluding "there seem to be a lot of personal favors involved in both the dog exchange and the pullover exchange." It's because of this we go fully into the weeds on value uncertainty, whether the dog was a liability for OZest, whether Gummy taking the dog is "rendering of services"... seriously. Anyway the conclusion: This sale is "incredibly unreliable."

The solution here is that they're going to disregard the sale, take the dog completely out of the question, and peg the values ascribed here to another sale of identical items: "there is no reason for us to rely on a sale that brings forth so much uncertainty." A value of 4825 keys flat, sans dog, is now attached to this trade.

TF2 never fails to surprise. This one is a journey, but I guess we can say with reasonable certainty that, yeah, two friends worked out a deal over a dog one of them couldn't keep, almost definitely to the animal's benefit, and then tied it into their other interests for a fairly innocent laugh. You can easily see why, when talking about splitting something like medical bills, they tied the two disparate things together.

So did Team Fortress 2 traders exchange a dog as part of a deal? I think you have to say they did, even if ultimately the dog was a real-life transaction between friends helping each other out. Maybe that fits. If this game does have any kind of underlying message, it's that at some point we all have a role to play.